Desert Isle Keeper
The Paragon Hotel
Fans of books set in the 1920’s will definitely want to pick up The Paragon Hotel, the latest offering from author Lyndsay Faye. It’s a big book with a lot going on, but I loved every moment I spent immersed in the story, and I’m eager for the rest of the book world to embrace this fantastic novel.
Alice James, who prefers to go by her nickname of Nobody, is on a cross-country train, fleeing for her life. She’s got a bullet wound in her shoulder, but she’s desperate to get away from her enemies and so chooses not to have the wound looked at right away. Nobody knows from personal experience that bootleggers and mob bosses aren’t the kind of people you want to cross, so her only hope of staying alive is to run away as fast and far as she can. The reasons behind Nobody’s need to flee aren’t fully disclosed until later on in the story, so you’ll have to bear with a bit of confusion. However, you can rest assured that Ms. Faye makes it totally worth your while.
Nobody doesn’t have a specific destination in mind. She plans to ride the train until the end of the line and hope for the best once she gets there. This didn’t strike me as the smartest way to avoid her enemies, but Nobody is not thinking clearly when she first starts out on her journey. Fortunately, luck is on her side, and she is able to find refuge at the Paragon Hotel, the only hotel for black people in the city of Portland, Oregon. At first, the residents of the Paragon aren’t exactly thrilled to have a white woman in their midst, but Nobody is able to convince them to allow her to stay at least until her shoulder has had a chance to heal.
Once she’s ensconced at the Paragon, Nobody begins doing her best to ingratiate herself with those who have made this hotel their home. All of the Paragon’s residents seem to have dark secrets, and Nobody finds herself strangely compelled to do what she can to make their lives even a little bit better. Some readers may struggle with Nobody’s clear need to be seen as the savior, but this is in no way the main point of the novel. Instead, Ms. Faye focuses on the relationships that develop between Nobody and the other Paragon residents, allowing Nobody to experience a great deal of personal growth as she learns about their personal struggles.
When a young child goes missing from the hotel, the residents are understandably frightened. Who is responsible for abducting young Davy Lee, and what plans do they have for him? Is it possible that the KKK is involved, and if so, is there any way to bring Davy home before the worst happens?
As days pass with no sign of the missing boy, tensions mount to a fever pitch both inside and outside the hotel. It becomes clear to Nobody that someone knows more than they’re telling about what happened to Davy, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of things, but there are powerful forces who are equally determined to keep the truth hidden and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.
The story moves fluidly back and forth in time, allowing the reader to learn Nobody’s backstory in bits and pieces without taking anything away from what’s going on at the hotel. I enjoyed both portions of the novel equally, a rarity when it comes to dual timeline novels. Nobody is a multi-faceted character, and I loved being able to understand first hand what led to her numerous complexities.
Much of this novel’s charm is due to the wonderful cast of supporting characters Ms. Faye has created. None of them felt the slightest bit stereotypical or two-dimensional, and in fact, many of them are exactly the kind of people I’d like to surround myself with in real life. I was particularly drawn to Blossom, a nightclub singer who hides a dangerous secret underneath her flirty facade.
Parts of this story may prove difficult for some readers, due to the large amount of racism the characters encounter. Some scenes are quite graphic, so be prepared to experience some heavy emotions as you read. I cried in places, but I’m still incredibly glad I picked this book up.
The Paragon Hotel isn’t an easy book to categorize. Parts of it read like classic historical fiction, but the novel also contains a certain amount of suspense as well as a dash of forbidden romance. The story contains quite a few high-action scenes, but it’s also slow and quiet in places, allowing the characters to develop and blossom in a way that feels completely authentic.
I don’t have enough words to fully express how much I adored this novel, which is exactly the kind of engrossing book I love to lose myself in. It deals with some important issues, but I never felt as though the author was hitting me over the head with too much information. It does what all good literature should do, transports the reader to a time and place different from the one they’re currently living in. It’s a journey I’m so glad I took, and I urge all of you to embark on it as well. I’m pretty sure you won’t be sorry you did.